The Crime Readers' Association

One of the Three Spires, by Paul Charles

“Auntie Maude would not like that.”

“But Uncle Archie has no kids of his own so she always felt a pity for him…”

“When pity might not necessarily have been a good thing?”

“Exactly, Liam, you’re spot on. You know he just showed up out of the blue, walked right up to the front door and rang the bell, brazen as brass. He’d have been polite, very polite, asked after the family and―”

“That would have been Uncle Archie’s only form of greeting before he got down to business?”

“Yes, he rushed in through the front door, excused himself and went straight to the toilet. He returned to the living room a few minutes later still zipping up his flies and saying: ‘Technically speaking the auld waterworks are still alright.’ And then he continued by commenting on the weather. This would have been at dinner-time, I know this only because one of the three spires had just rung out six o’clock…”

“His favourite time for a visit.”

“Oh aye. My mother used to say ‘You could set your clock by our Archie.’ So he came in, took off his jacket put it on the back of the spare chair at the dinner table, loosened both his belt and the top button on the waist of his trousers and said, as he always said, ‘Would there be anything in the auld pot for me.’ And you just knew it wasn’t a question―’

“Brazen as brass, always was.”

“So, my mum, his sister mind you…”

“I know, Adele, I know.’

“She did him proud, somehow managed to find a full plate at the bottom of the pot…’

“Aye Auntie Maude was always very good at her auld five loaves and two fishes trick.”

“Only on this particular night it was one of her cottage pies….”

“Oh I do love Auntie Maude’s cottage pies. Did she do it with peas and carrots and broad beans on the side or in the pie?”

“On the side; the pie was just beautiful mincemeat with potatoes…”

“Oh… I do love the way she does her potatoes with a wee bit of cheese so that it goes a nice golden brown on top. It’s making my mouth water just thinking about it.”

“That’s when I was first conscious of the thump, thump of the doors of a car shutting somewhere out on the street. I didn’t think twice about it. It wasn’t anything unusual for our street…”

“There’s an awful lot of coming and going on your road, always was.”

“Anyway, Uncle Archie scoffed his way through his pie in no time at all. The rest of us had barely started when he pushed back his plate with the vegetables still untouched…”

“Oh he’s such a fussy eater. There’s nothing drives Auntie Maude as crazy as a fussy eater.”

“I remember thinking there must be some evangelist working our street because I could hear our neighbour’s doorbells ringing and…”

“Sure, you’d have been able to tell if he was an evangelist; he wasn’t the real deal if he was arriving at six o’clock.”

“Now you come to mention it…”

“Well if he was the real deal and he’d the Holy Father’s ear, sure he would have told him not to bother the good folks of Beechland Road at dinner time. You’re never going to make a convert of a man on an empty stomach.”

“Talking of which, a minute or so later the hunger got the better of Uncle Archie and he started picking into the tinkers toast. That satisfied him for a wee while…”

“About a minute, two at max?”

“You’re not wrong. He twisted around awkwardly in the chair and then he tore into the peas and pushed his plate away again. A few minutes later the broad beans had disappeared as well. Then he declared he was still famished and ding ding it was time for round three, so he tore into the carrots like he was Bugs Bun …”

“Sure he hates carrots, does Uncle Archie.”

“Aye well, as he said, he was famished, so famished in fact, he had just started to look greedily at our plates when the doorbell rang again…”

“Auntie Maude wouldn’t have liked that.”

“She told everyone to sit where they were, ‘We’re enjoying our family dinner and if anyone is rude enough to interrupt a family dinner,’ she paused to glare at Uncle Archie, ‘they’ll just have to wait until we’re finished. Eat up your food now, do you hear?’ and so we did…”

“Was there any drink took?”

“There was none left to be took, sure didn’t Uncle Archie get into his strategic drinking carry-on…”

“You mean he helped to share the most popular drink while he saved the least popular all for himself?”

“Something like that, aye, but then he persuaded me to take the panna cotta, which I don’t really like, so he could have the Bailey’s chocolate cake for himself. He made short work of his cake and two-thirds of my panna cotta…”

“So he’s started into the strategic eating as well?”

“Only with the desserts it appears… so far; aye I’d don’t think he’ll be getting much further with that strategy any time soon, but I was getting to that…”


“Yes. Remember I was telling you about the thump, thump of the two doors of a car shutting?”

‘Yes, when Auntie Maude told you all to ignore it?”

“Well this time, Uncle Archie told me to answer the door…”

“Did he now? Sure wasn’t he being a bit rude, in someone else’s house and all?”

“You’re not wrong. As I was about to get up, my mother said, “‘You just sit where you are, Adele. You’ll rise from the dinner table when your father tells you to and―’”

“Fair play to Aunty Maude, proper order, good manners and all.”

“― My father nodded at me to go answer the door…”

“Yeah just like Uncle Matt, backing his wife but not making a fuss about it. Who was at the door?”

“I was just getting to that. There were two police men in uniform. I didn’t know them…”

“You wouldn’t, particularly these days. It appears they intentionally never station any policemen in their own village. They don’t want them compromised by familiarity. And what did the two policemen want?”

“They asked if Mrs Maude Hutchinson lived here and when I said yes, they asked if they could speak to her…”

“Your mother?”

“Yes. So I shouted out to my mum that there were two policemen who wanted to talk to her…”

‘That would have been a shock.”

“She rushed out to the hallway saying, “For heaven’s sake, Adele, invite the two young constables in. Don’t leave them standing on the doorstep.’ She―”

“Aye, the golden rule: Never leave the police standing on your doorstep for all the neighbours to know your business.”

“It was a bit late for that; they’d already knocked on several doors looking before they were directed to ours―”

“So what did they want?”

“I’m getting to that. They asked my mum did she have a brother by the name of Archie Booth―”

“And him in the house?’

“‘What have you been up to this time?’ my mum asked, turning to Uncle Archie who looked like he was trying to figure out a way he could scarper. Either way, as he was seated at the head of the table in the dining area he was going to have to pass the policemen one way or―”

“What did he say?”

“He said, and you won’t believe this, he said, ‘No they mean Archibald Booth, we’re the Hutchinsons.’ Then―”

‘What did Auntie Maude say?”

“She said, to the policemen, she said, ‘And what did this Archie Booth do exactly?’ Well the policemen looked from one to the other. Me and my dad and my two sisters were in complete shock, with our jaws dangling near the dinner table. Archie stood up. One of the policemen, the one with the ginger curls moved closer to Archie, the other remained by the door, blocking the only exit from the room. Archie fastened up the top button in the waist band of his trousers and buckled up his belt. He then studied both the policemen as he buttoned up his blue blazer―”

“Did he make a run for it?”

“He looked like he was weighing up his options―”

“Which means he didn’t run. What did he do?”

“Wheesht would you, stop interrupting me and I’ll get to that. The ginger-haired policeman, the cute one, self-consciously, half-heartedly pointed towards Archie as though warning him off from making a run for―”

“It sounds like the situation was getting hairy.”

“My mum said, ‘Come on, you banana, what have you been up to this time?’ Archie tried to pull off one of those, ‘Who me?’ gestures, which didn’t really work for him. He was moving his lips but nothing was coming out. He―”

“Banana? Auntie Maude actually called Uncle Archie a banana!”

“She looked like she wanted to call him more than that. She was absolutely raging. She was ‘possessed’ as my father said afterwards. My mum tore into Archie, saying enough was enough, not only would he try and steal the cross of the back of a donkey but he was always coming around gate-crashing their family time, like a scavenger at their dinner table. She said…”

“Oh poor Archie, sure he’s harmless.”

“Harmless he might be but my mum had had enough of him…”

“She must have had, suggesting her own brother was as bent as a banana?”

“She walked over to Archie and kept poking him in the chest until he tumbled back down into his seat again. ‘What did you do this time, you banana?’ she kept repeating over and over as she poked him in the chest. No, don’t interrupt me again or I’ll never get this finished…”

“I wasn’t going to. Go on.”

“‘How dare you bring the police to our house,’ my mum started up again, ‘embarrassing me in front of the neighbours, not to mention troubling both these policemen, young enough to be your sons. What have you been up to? You better tell me, Archie, or I’ll hang for you myself this time, I warn you, this time I’ll hang for you.’ Archie looked―”

“Oh my goodness, I just can’t believe it.”

“Archie looked like he was going to confess to the disappearance of both Lord Lucan and Shergar. No, stop laughing, I’m serious, on top of which I’ll start laughing as well and then we’ll never get to the end of―”

“Go on then?”

“Uncle Archie started to speak, ‘Look I mean it was nothing really, I mean it wasn’t really my fault, I was just there by accident.’ Then the ginger-haired constable interrupted him and took out his notebook. I thought he was going to read him his―”

“And you’d be correct, Adele, anything Archie said would have been inadmissible if the police hadn’t read him his rights. Did the copper read him his rights?”

“No he didn’t, he―”

“He didn’t?”

“I’m ignoring you, but he didn’t, he―”

“Which means you’re not ignoring me.”

“The ginger-haired policeman said to Archie, ‘Are you Archie Booth?’ Archie admitted quietly, ‘Go on then, constable, okay yes I am.’ He sheepishly stole a look at my mum. The policeman continued with, ‘Were you the husband of Mrs Caroline Booth, whose maiden name was Kelly?’ ‘God rest her soul, yes I was,’ Uncle Archie admitted. ‘God rest her soul,’ my mother echoed―”

“God rest her soul.”

“Oh shut up, Liam, would you, you never even knew her.”

“The policeman continued…”

“The ginger-haired one?”

“The ginger-haired policeman glanced at his notebook and continued, ‘Her uncle, a Mr Desmond Kelly emigrated to Australia.’ My mum said, ‘Oh yes I remember when he flitted to Australia. Caroline was really upset. She was rather fond of her Uncle Desi. He did really well for himself over there.’ The policeman―”

“What has Australia got to do with anything, particularly Uncle Archie?”

‘‘‘Yes,’ the policeman said, ‘Desmond Kerr recently passed away and you, by way of your deceased wife, are his only living relative. We’ve been asked by a firm of solicitors in Adelaide to track you down. Apparently Mr Kerr left a Will they want to discuss with you.’”


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